Rooted or Uprooted

As a child, I lived in an old farmhouse where my ancestors had lived since the 1700’s. For many generations, my family attended a church built on land that another ancestor had donated to the congregation in the mid-1800’s. Four small family cemeteries lay within a few miles of my childhood home.

My family was deeply rooted in the wooded hills, the gently sloping fields, the big barns and the three generation farmhouses of rural southern Pennsylvania. Growing up, I knew this countryside was home; I belonged here. And I took all the security and stability of home for granted.

Although I don’t live on ancestral land or attend the church I did as a child, I still live surrounded by beautiful Pennsylvania farms and woods. I can still visit my childhood home and farm, attend worship in the old church or stand in the cemeteries and read the names on tombstones of those whose blood flows in me. Though I’ve traveled the world, I know where home is, and how precious it is to have a home land.

There are others whose roots in their homeland, in family and community, in hills and rivers, are just as deep in mine. And, tragically, people have sometimes been violently torn from the land of their ancestors. They’ve been uprooted, and they’ve lost their own rolling hills and familiar patterns of living. Their roots exist now only in their memories, and a changed world spins around them.

What happened? Perhaps they fled a war that seems to have no end and takes no prisoners. Maybe they were escaping chaos and riots and gangs or they were persecuted because of their religion. If they were lucky, they found a refugee camp where they might live for decades. But no one creates deep roots in a refugee camp; roots are shallow there because everyone is hoping to be transplanted.

Perhaps it is the land itself that uprooted them. Perhaps the climate changed and rain no longer comes as it always has. Crops dry up, dust blows, and living in the land of their ancestors is no longer sustainable. Even in the cities, the world changes as the weather changes, and life is harder.

Many people without a home set out on a perilous sea voyage or a jungle trek to find a new land where they can find work and begin again. Behind them are their roots; before them only the desperate hope that their children will, in time, begin to root themselves in a new place. They take the risks, hoping that they will find some place that can begin to be home.

Everyone needs a place that is home. Everyone needs to feel that here, here is where I belong. This need for a community and a country where one can be rooted is a basic human desire. All of us want a homeland in which to live in peace, celebrate birthdays, and worship God without fear. We want a place where we can laugh and love, earn a living, and finally die in peace.

I have never been torn away from my foundational roots like so many others have. I am grateful for the stability of my life, and I want to say to those who have lost so much:

Come, there’s space here for you to put down roots. We’ll work it out, and we’ll share. There’s schooling for your children and work for you here. Come, there’s a welcome here for you.

If you want to help provide a warm welcome, these are two organizations I know well that do good work: Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center and Church World Service. Click on the names to learn more.

If this reflection has spoken to you, please share it with others.

10 thoughts on “Rooted or Uprooted”

  1. A beautiful piece today, Nancy thank you. I would wonder if you could also include those folks who were tragically uprooted, relocated, maybe murdered, who lived on those beautiful places before your ancestors did. The people of the First Nations, the Native Americans, most likely, the Lenni-Lenapi Indians. I believe we need to say their names in our mouth and in our hearts. Some were actually called the Delaware Indians, which is a huge misnomer, they were renamed from their native original names by an English Lord, who found their names too hard to pronounce. What a tragic, misunderstanding of native cultures and language.
    All of the land that our ancestors settled on, or Lands, where others were living first, and they were driven off. This needs to be acknowledged over and over and over.

    1. Dear Maggie,
      I agree with you! The land wasn’t empty when William Penn and sons started giving grants to Europeans (like my ancestors) fleeing religious persecution or seeking a new start. And the ones who were displaced need to be acknowledged over and over again.
      I didn’t know about about the Delaware name—but it doesn’t surprise me. ‘Colonizers” don’t have an appreciation for the culture they are overwhelming. If they did, they probably wouldn’t “take over”.
      Thank you for writing out your concern.

  2. So timely a reflection. The welcome in Lancaster to those in search of a home community is genuine & widely recognized. May the civil servants in county and city uphold this life saving tradition.

    1. Dear Anne,
      Yes, I’m so glad Lancaster is a welcoming community. I hope it continues to live up to the reputation! The need will continue, I know.

  3. I love your story and messages! So glad to meet you once again this past weekend at Swatara. Another form of mild homelessness are those of us who grew up always moving, or living amid many cultures, as in armed services kids, transcultural children of mixed religions, origin countries, races, etc., or in my case, children of missionaries or expat journalists, workers, etc. We will in a sense never quite belong fully to one area or culture, because we carry deep connections to many! This is both a blessing and a painful condition. After a half century living in Pa., my roots are deep here, and I love this land. But still… we are ever seeking true community with others. Thanks for your essay!

    1. Thanks for writing, Jen. Yes, there is a kind of rootlessness from moving so often, especially as a child—and feeling you much start over again and again. Not as tragic perhaps as he refugee’s situation but very hard for a child!

  4. What a great way to open important discussions! As someone who was cut off from my matrilineal root, I know how important that connection to ancestors (and a sense of home) really is. I grew up on the edge of my paternal grandparents’ farm during my early school years, and yet because of my mixed heritage and because I wasn’t a Mennonite, I never really felt at home there either. I did in the natural environment, but not in the society of people. Ironically, I had to move 1200 miles away to feel totally accepted in all aspects of who I am and to find my home that feels as comfortable and fitting as old slippers.

    1. Thank you so much for writing, Mary! Yes, I believe this reflection spoke to you. And I am very, very glad and grateful that you can say how much at home you are now — where you are, settled into a chosen home.
      in gratitude,

  5. Thanks for this compassionate, informative piece. It is not so easy to take for granted our comfortable lives and homes as we see the events taking place in the world around us. The photo you included was especially moving. It is so sad that as adults we are not making better choices for our children. I appreciate you including the resources at the bottom of your essay.

    1. Dear Laurie,
      Thank you for writing, Laurie. I find that we are not so aware about the dreadful conditions refugees are leaving. The situations are often ongoing—and therefore don’t receive attention in the news after awhile. peace, Nancy

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